CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: MaryAnn Johanson (flickfilosopher.com), Mr Cranky (mrcranky.com), David Ansen (Newsweek), James Berardinelli (reelviews.net), Gator MacReady (iofilm.co.uk), Jason Pohlman (zombiekeeper.com), Norm Schrager (filmcritic.com), David Grove (filmthreat.com), Tom Allen (Village Voice), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Jamey Hughton (moviething.com)
When I think of a scary movie, my thoughts take me back to the year 1978, sitting on the edge of my seat in a movie theatre watching John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” It was the first movie (as a teenager) to startle me from beginning to end.
“Halloween” begins with the most absorbing and disturbing music imaginable as we see a glowing pumpkin appear on a backdrop of black – light pulsating from its carved-out face. Then in one long shot, we watch 6 year-old Michael Meyers stalk and finally slash his teenage sister to death with a knife. Now fifteen years later (1978), Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) watches his patient, Michael, escape from a mental institution. In a frightful reaction, Loomis cries out, “He’s gone from here! The Evil has gone!” Michael makes his way back home to Haddonfield, Illinois where he terrorizes babysitters in this quite community on Halloween night, but some critics don’t’ think Michael is all that scary.
MaryAnn Johanson (flickfilosopher.com) said, “Michael has no motive except that he’s insane, and since he never gets to speak or even show his face, he’s not even insane in an interesting way, like Hannibal Lecter or the killer in ‘Seven,’ who reveals something of his character through whom he kills and why.”
Mr Cranky (mrcranky.com) said, “I was stunned, disappointed, and just generally put off that this film is so incredibly slow. Myers doesn’t actually mutilate anyone until well into the film, and when he finally does, he strangles one of Laurie’s friends in a car. He’s not even very good at it.”
You two must have eaten too much Halloween candy. The sugar is affecting your brains! Michael’s lack of emotion and silence is what made him intriguing – and scary! You cannot help but sense the evil within as we listen to his deep breathing while he violently chokes his first victim to death. However, it was the words of Dr. Loomis who formed an image in our minds that makes Michael really frightening:
“I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no, uh, conscience, no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child with this blind, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes, the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply – evil.” (Dr. Loomis)
Loomis is creepy himself – and his obsession to stop this Evil makes the movie that much more frightening and suspenseful. In fact, the movie uses very little blood or gore because the suspense element is so powerful and we actually care for the babysitters who become Michael’s target (played by Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis).
David Ansen (Newsweek) said in his review, “Carpenter understands that the apprehension of horror is more unnerving than the actual event. He spares us graphic scenes of blood and gore, but he plays on our expectations of violence like a sadistic maestro.”
James Berardinelli (reelviews.net) nailed it: “He kills without making a sound or changing his _expression, and his movements are often slow and zombie-like. Carpenter is exceedingly careful in choosing the camera angles he uses to shoot Michael. Before the climax, there’s never a clear close-up — he’s always concealed by shadows, shown in the distance, or presented as otherwise obscured. This approach makes for an especially ominous villain.”
Carpenter’s music is the most eerie you will ever hear in a horror film. He creates a mood so nerve racking, you’re constantly on edge. I remember the screams in the theatre back in 1978 and it was like an emotional rollercoaster ride in hell. But is the movie as scary now as it was then?
Gator MacReady (iofilm.co.uk) said, “It has lost its power somewhat over the years. Now that we are familiar with stalk’n’slash flicks, such as ‘Friday The 13th’ and the overly contrived comeback of the genre when ‘Scream’ made them cool again, a masked killer lurking in the darkness just isn’t scary anymore.” Jason Pohlman (zombiekeeper.com) said, “If you have seen many of the copies but managed to miss the original, some of the effect and some of the surprises may be slightly dulled.”
I agree. Even I watched a recent screening of “Halloween” on the big screen this year and I literally laughed throughout the movie. Face it. We’ve seen this all before – in countless copycat slasher films! Some of the scenes now are just plain cheesy and funny to me like when Loomis finds a dead animal in the old Meyer’s house and refers to Michael, “He got hungry”; or dialogue repeating the word “TOTALLY” over and over again. Simply watching Michael appear and disappear in certain scenes is hilarious! The scene where he walks into a bedroom dressed as a ghost wearing a white sheet and glasses put me in tears – TOTALLY!
Does this take away from the movie? No way. You see, no matter how hard other filmmakers tried to duplicate the suspense in the original “Halloween,” I contend the copycats did not even come close.
Norm Schrager (filmcritic.com) said it best: “Future horror filmmakers trashed story, going for extensive body counts and increasingly ‘creative’ styles of murder. So many forgot to take a lesson from John Carpenter and his ‘psycho,’ Michael Meyers — keep it simple, stupid.” David Grove (filmthreat.com) adds, “The killer in the film is so murderous and cold-blooded that there’s a real fear generated, not the sick, artless farrago of the countless ‘Halloween’ imitations and indeed, the ‘Halloween’ sequels, of which this film is immeasurably better.”
I feel fortunate that I was able to experience this movie in the theatre before my brain became polluted by wannabe, teen-slashers that followed. So I can see why some people today, like MaryAnn Johanson, say things like, “John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ sucks. It’s boring. It’s not scary.” In my opinion, I think Hollywood simply sucked the suspense right out of your skull! Other critics got it right:
“‘Halloween’ is a movie of almost unrelieved chills.” Tom Allen (Village Voice)
“‘Halloween’ is an absolutely merciless thriller, a movie so violent and scary that, yes, I would compare it to ‘Psycho.’ It’s a terrifying and creepy film…” Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times)
“This film is truly one of a kind and one of horror cinema’s true artistic triumphs.” Jason Pohlman (zombiekeeper.com)
“Meyer’s is simply terrifying.” Jamey Hughton (moviething.com)
David Ansen summed the movie up best: “‘Halloween’ is a superb exercise in the art of suspense, and it has no socially redeeming value whatsoever. Nasty, voyeuristic, relentless, it aims at nothing but to scare the hell out of you.”
When I turn out the lights and play the DVD at home in the dark – I still find myself in awe of its creepy presence. It is simply one of the scariest movies of all time.
– CRITIC DOCTOR
Posted on November 2, 2003 in Features by Herb Kane
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